Posted by: Jeff | April 15, 2010

Security and Development: Partners or Strange Bedfellows?

“We are working to elevate development and integrate it more closely with defense and diplomacy in the field…The three Ds must be mutually reinforcing.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (Jan. 6, 2010)

Bill Easterly has a couple of posts up on his Aid Watchers blog that dissect the policy implications of Clinton’s statement.  He warns that this is a horrible idea in terms of aid efficacy, and threatens to have a huge impact on the way aid is delivered – and who benefits.

As Easterly notes, the fact of the matter is that development goals are by nature long-term – poverty eradication, economic growth, encouraging a robust private sector, fostering public spending on social services such as health and education.  Security has long been considered by development literature a happy corollary of these things – with higher standards of living, better governance, and the rule of law, countries are generally more secure and lapse less frequently into conflict.

But the integration of defense with development as a matter of policy drastically changes the whole business.

An ideal development industry focuses largely on empowering individuals and communities in developing areas to have greater control over their own economic opportunities and behavior.  The goal of development is empowerment just as much as it is capital accumulation or macroeconomic performance.  Those things are often a means to the end (contested by theorists) that can support greater individual empowerment.

American defense objectives don’t bother with the individual.  Instead, they focus on development as a tool of security – the securitization of development loses sight of the individual and deploys a blunt instrument to do pretty delicate work.  The rising specter of a military role for development in the form of a greater AFRICOM presence in Africa, for instance, has many aid watchers worried.

And now there is news that some of the biggest defense contractors are beginning to incorporate more development roles in their portfolio:

Defense firms are eager to oblige. “The definition of global security is changing,” says Lockheed’s Chairman and Chief Executive Robert Stevens. He wants the maker of the Air Force’s most advanced fighters to become a central player in the U.S. campaign to use economic and political means to align countries with American strategic interests.

Who is the benefit of such a development effort?  Well, to hear Lockheed tell the story, the American people.

Which isn’t all bad – obviously greater security is a laudable goal, but at what expense?  On the one hand, this means more funding for development initiatives, as the Defense Department has a lot more in the way of expendable income than USAID.  It could also foster greater innovation – something the private sector has often spurred.

But this funding and innovation is only good news insofar as it supports objectives that benefit the people development aims to reach.

The end goal of development assistance is trending toward American security rather than individual empowerment and poverty eradication.  I agree with Easterly that this a pretty worrisome trend.

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